Earlier this month we published some news on the latest research on lutein. The antioxidant more commonly associated with eye health is apparently also beneficial for the skin and a study has shown that it may protect against cancer-causing UVB light. The company funding the study was Kemin Foods, the US maker of natural ingredients for food supplements.
Funding research accounts for a significant segment of Kemin's marketing budget, along with extensive PR campaigns, and alliances with various health associations such as The Macular Disease Society in the UK.
In fact, Pedro Vieira, marketing manager for Kemin Foods Europe, told NutraIngredients.com that for a small company going public is the only way.
"We first approached the US in 1995. Lutein was an unknown category so we had to make it public," said Vieira. "The PR campaign started in 1996 and overall awareness of lutein is now at 44 per cent."
The PR campaign targeted all sectors - consumer healthcare, B2B and the general public, which in the US has involved taking on the mainstream media in television programmes such as CNN and USA Today and featuring in a recent issue of Time magazine. Such has been the success of the campaign in the US that the same strategy was introduced in the UK last year, Kemin's first European market. Different markets have of course led to some adjustments.
Partnerships with carefully targeted patient support groups are one of the first steps in Kemin's PR activities. "It is a very effective way of passing on the benefits of lutein to patients. In the US we formed a strategic alliance with the Alliance for Aging Research who then produced a booklet on Age-Related Macular Disease. They have distributed three million copies since its launch. Now we are doing the same thing in the UK with The Macular Disease Society."
With funding from Kemin, the Macular Disease Society (a non-commercial organisation) has also printed a patient-support booklet to educate the general public. The booklet provides a link to the Lutein Information Bureau - a website which is also apparently non-commercial, offering guidelines for consumers and doctors alike.
First set up in the US, the site has also been registered in the UK, although Vieira pointed out that this has been less relevant to the British market. "In the UK we saw the need to add a freephone number because the Internet does not reach the same audience as in the US. Since the middle of last year, over 1200 calls have been recorded in the UK."
The website is nevertheless successful. "The site now gets 350,000 hits each month and it has really helped to create awareness of the product." The largest number of visitors are healthcare professionals, then consumers and finally B2B.
All the same, this is not exactly direct marketing - there is no advertising for Kemin's products via the MD Society. Vieira admitted: "You cannot control whether the people we target buy our products or not. The first thing is to increase awareness of a condition that was and still is relatively unknown." He added that the FloraGLO logo does feature on the Lutein Information Bureau website.
FloraGLO is Kemin's patented brand of purified lutein. The patent has made a significant difference to the way in which the company markets its product.
"We make the only patented form of purified lutein. There is a significant amount of scientific evidence that supports the role of lutein in eye health, while there is not much associated with the lutein esters that some other companies (such as Cognis) make.
"It is important that we market lutein as pure. In communications our product is identified as a unique and different product, whereas esters are marketed as a lutein-like product.
"We have also used branding to transmit this - the FloraGLO logo is often included in product labelling, and this co-marketing with our customers is an important way of differentiating our products."
The latest products to feature FloraGLO were three beverages launched last week at the IFT meeting in California. Ensure, a dietary supplement made by Ross Laboratories, SunSweet prune juice and Ardmore Farms' Eye Power will all be advertising the addition of 'Lutein for Healthy Eyes'.
However, functional foods are a relatively new area for Kemin Foods. "We received GRAS status for FloraGLO in June last year so now we have started to go after the functional foods market but at the moment the division between supplements and functional foods is still about 90 per cent versus 10 per cent."
In the US, the company has started to invest in the functional foods sector, with the addition of a new Functional Foods Application Centre earlier this year. But in Europe, conquering the eye health market will come first. "We have to start out with dietary supplements first, but of course if an opportunity were to come up, we might go for it."
So far there has been a venture with German emulsion manufacturer Dohler which has added purified lutein to a liquid emulsion for beverages and is currently taking the product to its customers.
"Remember that while functional foods are an excellent delivery method, there have been a lot of failures.
In Europe the focus is on food supplements. These present the greatest opportunities and there is more awareness. If successful in supplements, they are more likely to go into functional foods."
The next target for Kemin's PR campaign is Italy. "We are selling lutein throughout Europe but Italy is a big market. Lutein has been used there for a while and there is high awareness in the medical community. Italians tend to rely on their doctors more than in the US, so we will target the medical community first."
Kemin's Europe division is organising a round table with key influencers and preparing the next patient-support leaflet. The campaign should be ready for launch by the middle of the summer.
As for the UK, work to raise awareness is ongoing. In May the company commissioned a study to find out how successful the PR had been in the UK market. "We wanted to measure levels of awareness for lutein and the opportunities in the market for the product. It was also to monitor the results of our campaign. Then we presented the results to the B2B sector to generate interest in the product."
The study, on 1,200 members of the general population, revealed that although 82 per cent of the public associated diet and nutrition with improved eye health, only 14 per cent of those surveyed were aware of lutein. However, Vieira insists the results were encouraging and claims that he can already see parallels with the way the US market developed.
"The study confirmed our expectations and that we're going after the right market. Awareness was highest in people over 50 and in women."
The results identified that no predominant nutrient is associated with eye health. "Since the study, more releases have been issued. We need to continue our campaign, working both on B2B and consumer press," said Vieira.
Vieira must be hoping that the European markets develop in the same way as the US. Earlier this month, Kemin's lutein received GRAS status for seven new food categories in the US widening the possibilities for functional foods. It may not be long before food manufacturers in Europe are featuring the FloraGLO logo on their products too.